12 Of November 2015's Best Books To Take Home For The Break
Post-Halloween blues got you down? Pre-Thanksgiving agita making you crazy? Post-Thanksgiving feeding frenzy bringing on a tidal wave of guilt and/or indigestion? You’ve come to the right place: November 2015’s best books are your ticket to sweet escape. These 12 titles will indulge in your wanderlust, awaken your lust (either for life or, you know, in general), and make you feel like you’re fleeing your mundane problems, gastrointestinal or otherwise.
For the cold-averse, Camille Pagan’s Puerto Rico-set Life and Other Near Death Experiences is the Vitamin D-boost you need. Russophiles will delight in Ludmila Ultiskaya’s newest tome, The Big Green Tent (best enjoyed with vodka and caviar, natch). Hannah Rothschild’s impressive debut The Improbability of Love is a treat for Anglophiles, Francophiles, art snobs, and skeptical romantics alike. And a trio of multigenerational romances — The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende; Wherever There is Light by Peter Golden; and Beatriz Williams’ Along the Infinite Sea — will transport you in space and time. Can’t ask for much more than that.
Looking for a more cerebral escape? Pick up literary legend Mary Gaitskill’s masterful novel The Mare ; or shoot for Chrissy Kolaya’s Charmed Particles , which is mercifully less heavy on the physics than its title suggests. Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker proves the actress’s writing chops in the form of a delightfully experimental memoir-in-letters. And for those mourning Halloween’s demise (I’m with you, sister), three November titles — Bird by Noy Holland, Hesitation Wounds by Amy Koppelman, and my personal favorite, Michael Cunningham’s A Wild Swan: And Other Tales — will pack enough haunting punch to last you 'til next October (almost).
Whatever you're looking to escape, or fall into, this November, these 12 titles have you covered.
Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán (Nov. 1; Lake Union Publishing)
They say that bad things come in threes, but for Libby Miller, two is enough to change her life completely: on the same day that her husband shares a marriage-shattering secret, she's also diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. Instead of facing her marriage and accepting the chemotherapy her doctor urges her to try, Libby turns heel on freezing Chicago and heads for sunny Puerto Rico in an effort to escape her demons. You can probably guess that running away, as Libby comes to learn, won't help her escape her life, her health, or her painful family history. But Camille Pagan's Life and Other Near-Death Experiences is anything but formulaic: it's unceasingly delightful, and Libby Miller is a sensitive, super-smart Everywoman hero you'll come to adore.
The Mare by Mary Gaitskill (Nov. 3; Pantheon)
Mary Gaitskill, the award-winning author of Bad Behavior, returns this month with The Mare , her first novel since 2005. Here, the award-winning author follows 11-year-old Velveteen Vargas, an underprivileged child from Brooklyn, and the complex, creative couple in upstate New York who become her host parents one fateful summer. Gaitskill explores the many complexities of love, in its many iterations, with the raw insight and energetic but elegant prose for which she's deservedly legendary.
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende (Nov. 3; Atria)
From the bestselling author of The House of the Spirits comes another sweeping, multigenerational tale of love and political turbulence. In 1939, Alma Belasco is sent from her home in Poland to the safety of her aunt and uncle’s mansion in San Francisco. There, she falls in love with Ichimei Fukuda, the son of the family’s Japanese gardener; but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ichimei and his family are sent to an internment camp. Over the years, Alma and Ichimei continue to meet and separate, and Irina Bazili, a nurse who cares for the aging Alma, discovers the woman’s fascinating story at the end of her life. The Japanese Lover is a poetic and profound meditation on the power of love: a common theme, sure, but in Allende's capable hands this trope is made utterly new.
Wherever There is Light by Peter Golden (Nov. 3; Atria)
After leaving his family in 1920s Germany to forge a new life in America, 15-year-old Julian Rose joins up with bootlegging gangsters. In 1938, Julian, who's now made serious bank, is reunited with his family in Miami, at a dinner hosted by the female founder of an African-American college that rescued the Rose family from Nazi Germany, and gave Theodor Rose a job as the institution's only white professor. It's also at that dinner that Julian meets and falls in love with Kendall Wakefield, the founder's creative, beautiful, and talented daughter, thus kicking off a decades-long love affair that spans the globe and the ages. Read Peter Golden's epic love story as much for the stunning historical detail — which takes us from Greenwich Village to Paris to Germany and several swanky locales in between — as for Julian and Kendall's passionate love affair (hot sex scenes included).
The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild (Nov. 3; Knopf)
When Londoner Annie McDee buys a cheap painting in a secondhand shop, she has no idea she's stumbled upon a long-lost masterpiece by one of the great 18th century French painters. As with great power, with the possession of a lost treasure comes a great sh*tshow surrounding its unlucky owner (that's how the saying goes, right?): Annie is soon launched into a frenzied search for the identity of the painter; a highly publicized auction involving Sheikhas and oligarchs and celebrities; a journey into the rich history of this mysterious painting; and the opportunity to fall in love. The Improbability of Love is Hannah Rothschild's first novel, but the author delivers her story, rife with intrigue and satire and, yes, romance, with an assured hand. Fans of Kate Morton, Liane Moriarty, and Jojo Moyes will love this one.
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams (Nov. 3; Putnam)
Who doesn't love a good road trip story? In Along the Infinite Sea , Beatriz Williams — the historical fiction author of such bestsellers as June's Tiny Little Thing — delivers a smart, punchy story that transports you from pre-WWII France to Mad Men-era Florida and all the sexy, boozy parties and intrigue-wracked bedrooms in between. In Palm Beach, 1966, the sharp-witted, blue-blooded Pepper Schuyler — pregnant by a man whose identity she keeps under wraps — auctions off the 1936 Mercedes Roadster she found and restored. Enter Annabelle Dommerich, the rare car's impossibly elegant buyer who, as she reveals on the drive back to her Georgia estate she and Pepper take together, has some secrets of her own. (Hint: she lived in Europe during the '30s, married a German general, and carried on an affair with a man named Stefan Silverman.) Along the Infinite Sea is compulsively, deliciously readable, and it just might inspire you to take a road trip of your own.
Hesitation Wounds by Amy Koppelman (Nov. 3; Overlook Press)
In her spare but richly layered third novel, Amy Koppelman explores what happens when a life ruptures with the trauma of loss — and what happens when the sutures knitting that wound begin to unravel. Dr. Susanna Seliger, whose breathtakingly beautiful remembrances and observations make up Hesitation Wounds , is a psychiatrist whose attentions she focuses on the progress of her patients' health rather than digging deeply into their emotional lives — or her own. But when one particular patient evokes memories of Susa's beloved older brother, a graffiti artist who died much too young, Susa is forced to investigate the pain she's tried to ignore, and to reconcile the girl she was when Dan died with the woman his death has shaped her to become.
The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya (Nov. 10; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Looks like Fall 2015 is the Season of the Big Impressive Book (see: Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire), and Ludmila Ulitskaya's much-anticipated The Big Green Tent is perfect for Russophiles looking to add some heft to their shelves. Ulitskaya is one of Russia's best known authors: among many other accolades, she won Russia's Man Booker Prize in 2002. Like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, et. al. before her, here Ultiskaya follows her three heroes — talented, creative, and ultimately rebellious school chums who grow up to become social and political dissidents during the post-Stalin era — with humor, grace, and unflinching insight. But don't be discouraged by its weight or its super-literary ambitions: The Big Green Tent is surprisingly readable, and a refreshingly classic story above all else.
A Wild Swan: And Other Tales (Nov. 10; FSG)
It's easy to forget that our favorite fairytales were, in their original iterations, actually pretty gnarly. (Did you know that in the Grimms' "Cinderella," the stepsisters amputated their own toes in order to fit their feet into the glass slipper?). Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours , reminds us of the morbidity, the heartbreak, and the dark humor inherent to our favorite childhood stories in his new collection, A Wild Swan: And Other Stories , which also features Yuko Shimizu's gothy illustrations. Here, Cunningham re-imagines Rumpelstiltskin as a single man desperate to adopt a child; Hansel and Gretel's witch as the victim of a break-in by greedy punks; the "Six Swans" prince as an aging bachelor who commiserates with commitment-phobic frogs and royal fuccbois in a dive at the edge of town. You'll eat up this sardonic, provocative collection in one delicious sitting.
Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker (Nov. 10; Scribner)
Like the characters she often plays (hello, Nancy Botwin!), Mary-Louise Parker's first book is unconventional, spirited, refreshingly honest, and painfully funny. In Dear Mr. You , which Mary Karr calls a "memoir in letters," Parker writes ostensibly unsent letters to 34 men who have influenced her over the course of her life. But there are the obvious men (father, grandfather, a trio of former lovers to whom she refers collectively as "Cerberus"), and there are the less obvious: like the cabdriver to whom she writes an apology after behaving less-than-politely in his cab; the Pulitzer Prize-winning man of her wildest imaginations; the impossibly kind man who will become her daughter's father, but whom she has yet to meet. Each letter proves Parker as a writer capable of inspiring depth and self-reflection. With Dear Mr. You , this accomplished actress can confidently add "slash writer" to her bio — and her fans should consider that addendum just as confidently.
Bird by Noy Holland (Nov. 10, Counterpoint)
Bird is a mother and a wife in the suburbs whose days are defined by domestic tasks. But today is not a normal day: puncturing the cooking and the cleaning and the bathing of young children are memories of Bird's lurid past with her former lover, Mickey, a drug addict with whom she carried on an affair in way-way-pre-gentrified-Brooklyn. Noy Holland's idiosyncratic prose renders Bird's daily balance — between past and present, light and dark, freedom and family — utterly new, and often bizarre; think of this as a domestic drama for the goth set. Ultimately, Bird serves as a welcome reminder that what you see isn't always what you get — that everyone, no matter how seemingly mundane, contains multitudes.
Charmed Particles by Chrissy Kolaya (Nov. 10; Dzanc)
In poet Chrissy Kolaya's debut novel, plans to build a Superconducting Super Collider (google it) divides the rural town of Ricolet, Illinois, home of the renowned National Accelerator Research Lab. I'll be straight with you: I got a C+ in Physics, so I was less-than-thrilled by the esoteric science-iness this book's overview promised. But I soon discovered that Charmed Particles is less about quarks and more about the personalities that enliven this small, special town. In particular, Kolaya paints subtle but affecting portraits of the Mitals, who immigrated from India so that Abhijat, a theoretical physicist, could take a job at the Lab; and the Winchesters, whose patriarch travels the world as an explorer, leaving matriarch Rose alone to raise their precocious daughter. The breaking apart and coming together of the individuals, the families, and the town creates a kind of magic within these pages, which I'm guessing is not unlike the magic of physics itself. (But someone who didn't nearly fail the subject can back me up on that.)
Image: Chris Ford/Flickr